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J Dent Hyg. 2017 Feb;91(1):6-14.

Access to Oral Health Care: A National Crisis and Call for Reform.


Purpose: According to the report Healthy People 2020, oral health is integral to overall health and access to dental services is essential to promoting and maintaining good oral health. Yet, those who need dental care the most are often the least likely to receive it. The dental hygiene profession is poised to play a pivotal role in the resolution of oral health disparities. The purpose of this manuscript is to examine the critical issue of access to oral health care in the United States from various perspectives and consider potential implications for dental professionals and the oral health care system. This report focuses on major underserved and vulnerable populations and highlights several barriers that significantly affect the ability to access and navigate the oral health care system. These include low socioeconomic status; the shortage and maldistribution of dentists; a lack of professional training regarding current evidence-based oral health guidelines; deficient continuity of care due to inadequate interdisciplinary collaboration; low oral health literacy; and patient perceptions and misconceptions about preventive dental care. This report also contains an update on provider participation in Medicaid; the state of children's oral health; and emerging workforce models, state initiatives, and legislative reforms. Recommendations increasing access to care require local, state, and federal stakeholders to combine forces that take advantage of the existing dental hygiene workforce, utilize innovative delivery models, improve license reciprocity, reduce prohibitive supervision, and expand the dental hygiene scope of practice. The major focus of future research will be on the implementation of mid-level oral health care providers. Dental hygienists are an integral part of the access to care solution and have a great opportunity to lead the call to action and fulfill the American Dental Hygienists' Association's mandate that oral health care is the right of all people.


access to care; emerging workforce models; interdisciplinary collaboration; oral health; oral health literacy; overall health; vulnerable populations

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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